The Joy of Dad Jokes

haircutDad jokes–jokes so corny, so lame, so obvious, they make us roll our eyes, groan and exclaim “DAAAAAaaaad!!!” like an embarrassed 8-year old. (Here are some, and some more, and yet another list, and even a Dad Joke Quiz.)

But could Dad Jokes be the gateway humour for language learners? Lots of people have written lots of stuff about humour and language learning:  learning about it and through it in the classroom, using humour as a teaching tool, and the challenge of understanding and making jokes as you learn a second or additional language.

Both as a language learner and teacher, I’ve felt that humour was the final frontier; the level of linguistic and cultural knowledge necessary to understand jokes in the media, in advertising, or those made socially was incredibly high. And making your own jokes was even more of a challenge.

But today I was giving a talk to some of the university campus tour staff on best practices for serving students whose first language is not English. Someone mentioned that the jokes he makes with tour groups whose English proficiency is lower often fall flat, and he wondered if it was best to avoid humour altogether. It made me think about how on different occasions some cheesy quip or aside I’ve made in the classroom has been met with roaring laughter. So I suggested he not cut out humour compeltely, but to keep it on the corny side.

Why are Dad Jokes accessible for learners? First, they’re usually super obvious. Lots of them deal with language, but very simple language. And the aspects of language that are at the centre of many Dad Jokes are the very linguistic phenomena that beguile learners: homophones (“Why can’t you play poker in the jungle? Because there are too many cheetahs”),  word boundaries (“Did you get a haircut? No, I got them all cut.”), multiple meanings of words (“Do you know where you can get chicken broth in bulk? The stock market.”), literal vs. figurative meaning (“Did you hear about the guy who invented Lifesavers? They say he made a mint.”), and syntactic ambiguity (“A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer. Bartender says, ‘Sorry we don’t serve food here.'”)

I think I might let my inner Dad shine in class over the next while and see what happens. Do you ever use Dad Jokes in class?




5 thoughts on “The Joy of Dad Jokes

  1. I haven’t really, no, but can see how they would be met with comprehensive (ba dap bap, tsssshhh) laughter. One bit I use for humour is actually outside of class in our Facebook Book Clubs. Mine is reading Hitchhiker’s Guide this term and as it is often quite funny, one of my discussion questions each week is for students to tell me what they found funny in the assigned chapters. Admittedly some are just not funny at all, but by and large, they pick up on quite a bit of the humour. I wonder if simply raising awareness that there is something funny draws attention to it for them.

  2. Say, in thinking about this, I have been reflecting on my experience with learners whose English was at a CLB 3 or 4. The gateway humour for this demographic is Mr. Bean. There is minimal linguistic anything in the many situational and/or slapstick scenarios. Mr. Bean is just one example of visual, concrete, and decidedly human interactions featuring awkward social behaviour and uncanny quick wit. The laugh track helps, too. What’s more is the cultural content of each episode – be it Christmas, a church service, or a school open house. Learners in my classes have been able to relate in some way to whatever is going on.

    Thinking of this topic also reminded me of my daughter’s first belly laugh. We had decided to pick raspberries one afternoon, and my wife, Maryse, held our 4 or 5 month-old as we walked towards the plants. I was behind them and Sacha could see me as she looked over my Maryse’s shoulder. I had a plastic bucket and tossed it into the air and caught it several times as we made our way down the dirt road. Then one time, I couldn’t catch the bucket and it hit the ground. This caused my daughter to laugh like we had never heard before. It was one of those visceral, full-body laughs that made Maryse turn around to see what had happened. So I tested this as we continued. I threw and caught the thing a few times, then intentionally dropped it. She laughed again. She got the joke. I remember discussing this with my mentor, John Rassias later that week and posited that the roots of humour might lie in the unexpected.

    Anyhow, Sacha was clearly laughing at her Dad, no matter what was going on in her little head that day in rural Vermont!

  3. Hi Jennifer,
    I really like dad jokes and even though I make a face when my dad makes one I really think it’s funny and can lighten up the mood (but don’t tell my dad I said so…) That said, I believe these types of jokes should definitely be used to teach language learners, with a few conditions:

    – It must be funny! Otherwise there is no point in teaching it. The goal is to get students to learn in a fun way.
    – The learner must know all the vocabulary words in the joke.
    – It must be age appropriate regarding the level of comprehension one would need to understand the joke in their L1 (and content-wise as well…)

    Last year I had a final exam for a linguistic course I took in college. We were asked to explain why the jokes are funny linguistically. For example the joke-
    “Yesterday, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How it got into my pajamas, I have no idea.” (Groucho Marx)

    What makes this joke funny is that it surprises us. General knowledge tells us that the man is wearing the pajamas but we then discover that the elephant is wearing the pajamas. This is possible due to the structural ambiguity of the sentence. Now, explaining a joke can be quite tiresome and tedious, however it more fun than explaining those same dry facts without the jokes. Language can be a boring topic so we need to put a little “boogie” in it!

    Thanks for your insights and all the dad jokes, I got a real kick out of them.
    Keep smiling,

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